According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “people who are homeless are a particularly vulnerable group” for COVID-19.
Many communities around the country have taken one step to reduce homelessness during the coronavirus: stopping the practice of evicting tenants from their homes.
But in Florida, there is no outright ban on evictions, despite an executive order from the governor pausing new eviction administrative procedures.
So how are the courts and Sheriff’s departments in the different counties in the Tampa Bay area handling evictions?
It turns out some have temporarily stopped evictions and others, like Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, continue to facilitate evictions that were in the system before the pandemic.
“So the executive order actually prevented the Clerk’s Office from taking certain eviction filings as it relates to people who don’t have the ability to pay. It’s not across the board. It is not a prohibition or a moratorium on those evictions that were in the pipeline. Remember it takes a long time for the eviction process. So those people that are now subject to what is the final act, which is called a writ of possession, that’s the final order that’s issued by the judge where the person is actually removed from the property. A lot of those have been in play and been in the legal process for maybe six, seven months. So that’s not related to COVID.
“So right now is, the only way that that would not proceed is if the judge who issued that writ of possession decided to stay the writ of possession. I have no authority over that. Once the court issues the order, and the court issues the writ of possession, then we have to serve it.
“There have been some judges that have stayed writs of possession and some have not. It gets into some very sensitive areas and some of it is controversial to a degree because it affects property owners’ rights. And while everybody wants to be sensitive to and cognizant of the renters, sometimes there’s more at play other than somebody lost their job and inability to pay. Some people aren’t doing the right thing by the landlord and some people are causing problems and there’s other issues there. So I think that’s why the governor’s order was limited but it was billed as some big huge moratorium on evictions where evictions can’t move forward. That’s simply not the case. It’s pretty narrow and it really affects those today forward or the time it was entered forward and their inability to pay.”
Some other Tampa Bay area Sheriff’s offices are also serving evictions handed down by a judge.
A spokesperson for the Sarasota Sherriff says, “The decision whether or not to enforce or serve evictions is made by the chief administrative judge. For that reason, you might consider reaching out to the 12th circuit.”
But in some counties, the chief judge or Sheriff have decided to stop evictions during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough Sheriff says the Sheriff and the county’s chief judge are “not executing any writs of possession.”
A spokesperson for the Pasco Sheriff’s says, “We are not currently serving evictions in the spirit of the Governor’s and court’s orders.”
A spokesperson for the Polk Sheriff says, “We have not served any—they have essentially stopped.”
WMNF did not get a response from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office by deadline.
According to the Florida Department of Health website, there have been 2,144 COVID-19 deaths in Florida, more than 8,900 hospitalizations, and more than 48,600 total positive coronavirus cases in the state. The number of new infections in Florida this week was even more than last week. States are supposed to show declining numbers of new infections before reopening. Fewer than 4% of Floridians have been tested for coronavirus.
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Below is Florida’s Executive Order 20-94, which has since been extended to June 2nd:
STATE OF FLORIDA
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
EXECUTIVE ORDER NUMBER 20-94
(Emergency Management – COVID-19 – Mortgage Foreclosure and Eviction Relief)
WHEREAS, Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a severe acute respiratory illness that can spread among humans through respiratory transmission and presents with symptoms similar to those of influenza; and
WHEREAS, on March 1, 2020, I issued Executive Order number 20-51 directing the Florida Department of Health to issue a Public Health Emergency; and
WHEREAS, on March 1, 2020, the State Surgeon General and State Health Officer declared a Public Health Emergency exists in the State of Florida as a result of COVID-19; and
WHEREAS, on March 9, 2020, I issued Executive Order 20-52 declaring a state of emergency for the entire State of Florida as a result of COVID-19; and
WHEREAS, on March 18, 2020, President Donald J. Trump announced that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) authorized the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) to implement an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for FHA-insured single-family mortgages for 60 days due to the COVID-19 emergency; and
WHEREAS, on March 18, 2020, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”) directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for Enterprise-backed single-family mortgages for at least 60 days due to the COVID-19 emergency; and
WHEREAS, I find that this emergency has impacted the ability of many Floridians with single-family mortgages to make their mortgage payments; and
WHEREAS, I find that providing targeted, temporary relief to Floridians with single-family mortgages is in the best interest of the state and its people; and
WHEREAS, I find that this emergency has impacted the ability of many Floridians with residential tenancies to make their rent payments; and
WHEREAS, I find that providing targeted, temporary relief to Floridians with residential tenancies is in the best interest of the state and its people; and
WHEREAS, as Governor, I am responsible for meeting the dangers presented to this state and its people by this emergency.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RON DESANTIS, as Governor of Florida, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article IV, Section (1)(a) of the Florida Constitution, Chapter 252, Florida Statutes, and all other applicable laws, promulgate the following Executive Order to take immediate effect:
Section 1. I hereby suspend and toll any statute providing for a mortgage foreclosure cause of action under Florida law for 45 days from the date of this Executive Order, including any extensions.
Section 2. I hereby suspend and toll any statute providing for an eviction cause of action under Florida law solely as it relates to non-payment of rent by residential tenants due to the COVID-19 emergency for 45 days from the date of this Executive Order, including any extensions.
Section 3. Nothing in this Executive Order shall be construed as relieving an individual from their obligation to make mortgage payments or rent payments.